Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Fri, February 22, 2013

Dyke Nelson group to buy Capital One building downtown, sources says

A group of investors led by local architect Dyke Nelson has signed a purchase agreement to buy the Capital One Bank building at 440 Third Street downtown. Sources tell Daily Report the group signed the option earlier this month. Both Capital One, which is relocating its local headquarters to the nearby One American Place building, and Nelson decline to comment on the deal, but it could be a game-changer for downtown Baton Rouge. That's because the eight-story, 111,000-square-foot building could be redeveloped for badly needed residential use. Sources familiar with the deal say no decision has been reached on the future use of the 1950s-era building, which if redeveloped, instead of razed, could qualify for state and federal historic tax credits. But Nelson and his partners have an increasingly high-profile track record of redeveloping historic downtown properties. Other projects they're involved in include the redevelopment of the Tessier building on Lafayette Street; the Lafayette House, a condo project Nelson and David Weinstein are developing behind the Tessier building; as well as projects at 223 and 421 Third St. —Stephanie Riegel

Contractor says Spinosa's bond will cover Rouzan library infrastructure costs

The contractor hired by developer Tommy Spinosa to build the infrastructure needed to begin construction on the library included in the plan for the Rouzan development says the $209,000 performance bond Spinosa has secured is sufficient to cover his costs and complete that part of the project. Charlie Record, whose company Record and Associates has already done some infrastructure work on the Southdowns TND off Perkins Road, says his contract with Spinosa calls for clearing land, pouring concrete for access and installing storm drains in and around the library site. Record's contract with Spinosa states the work must be done within 277 days—or about nine months—from the start of construction. Record, whose construction company has been doing civil and site work since 1979, says he believes the amount of the contract and the time frame are more than adequate to get the site around the proposed library ready for construction to begin. On Thursday evening, however, the parish library board delayed for one month a decision on whether to continue working with Spinosa toward developing the long-awaited library. A parish attorney says the bond Spinosa secured does not guarantee completion of the drainage, streets and parking area at no cost to the library. —Stephanie Riegel

Editor: Baton Rouge's transparency challenge

John Price, the assistant chief administrative officer to Mayor Kip Holden, says the use of traffic light cameras to spot red light violations in East Baton Rouge Parish—and issue tickets to those drivers who break the law—is the "most successful program the city has." Business Report Executive Editor JR Ball wants to know how Price—or anyone else in the parish—could possibly make such a statement. Because while Price can tell citizens how much revenue the cameras have generated since being installed in 2008 ($8.4 million, after the Arizona-based company that oversees the program takes its 35% cut) and how much the Baton Rouge Police Department is budgeting to collect from them this year ($1.6 million), there's one important statistic he doesn't have. "What Price can't factually tell us is if the red light program is actually doing what it's supposed to be doing—which is improving public safety at the intersections where the cameras are located," Ball writes in his latest column. "He can't tell us, he says, because the collision reports are inaccurate, thanks to police officers incorrectly inputting accident locations." In a world where "one can Google 'Kate's bump' and get nearly 25 million results in 0.3 seconds," Ball wants to know why it is "virtually impossible to see public data controlled by our city-parish and state governments." He says Baton Rouge should become the sixth city to accept the Citizenville Challenge, and its leaders should vow to embrace civic entrepreneurs with the goal of making government more transparent to the very people it serves. Read the full column here. Send your comments to [email protected].

LaPolitics by Maginnis: BP money has uncertain fate in La.; Firing of B.R. police chief points up consolidation issue

Louisiana's potential share of the Clean Water Act penalties paid for as a result of BP's 2010 oil spill—estimated at anywhere from $2 billion to $6 billion—has conservation interests fearing a hijacking by lawmakers during the regular session. "Look at what happened last year," says Chris Macaluso, coastal outreach coordinator for the Louisiana Wildlife Federation. During the 2012 regular session, lawmakers added a provision to state law requiring that any BP fine money be deposited into the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund. But with only a simple majority vote needed to reverse the law, eyes are turning to the upcoming session. Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, will ask state lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment in the spring to limit the money to coastal protection and restoration projects. She did the same last year, but negotiations broke down in the Senate and the language was put into statute instead.

—Even before Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden fired Police Chief DeWayne White this week, a public movement was under way to consolidate the police department and sheriff's office. The metro councilman leading the quest believes the controversial firing gives impetus to the plan. "Timing is everything," says Metro Councilman Joel Bo. "Now I could not pick a better time." He has set a March 6 initial meeting for a committee formed by the council to study possible unification.

They said it: "Texas Brine has taught me more about purgatory and limbo, and I went to Catholic school, than the nuns could." —Bayou Corne homeowner Candy Blanchard on the nearby sinkhole.

(John Maginnis publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com.)

Today's poll question: Do you think the Baton Rouge police chief should be an elected position, or should the mayor continue to appoint someone for the job?

Tax 'reform' or 'deform'?

When economists say "tax reform," according to LSU economist Jim Richardson, they usually mean broadening the base, lowering rates, and making the system simple, fair and competitive while providing needed revenue. But Richardson, a member of the state's Revenue Estimating Conference, wonders if the Jindal administration's proposed overhaul is "tax reform" or "tax deform," since it will require higher sales taxes and narrow the overall revenue base. "So you have a higher rate—which is contrary to what we typically mean by tax reform—and you have one rate [income tax] at zero," he says. Richardson concedes the administration's point that corporate income taxes are highly unstable, contributing to the need for state budget cuts, but says Louisiana's personal income tax is "very competitive and very workable." He agrees that the sales tax base should be broader, but says true tax reform would involve lowering the rate, not raising it, as Jindal plans to do. Jason DeCuir, assistant secretary at the Department of Revenue, says sales taxes alone will provide a more stable revenue stream for the state than the current overly complex system. The administration says the tax swap they're proposing will boost economic development and improve the state's standing with the conservative Tax Foundation from 32nd to fourth. "It's very nice to examine [rankings]," Richardson says. "But I don't think we should worship them." —David Jacobs

'225 Dine': Alexander's Highland Market to open in March

A new gourmet grocery store is opening at Highland Road and Perkins Road East next month: Alexander's Highland Market. It joins a few big players who have recently announced plans to move into the Capital Region—such as Trader Joe's, Costco and Rouses. The brainchild of Ascension Parish brothers Reid, Lathan and Ryan Alexander, the market will be stuffed with trendy offerings including organic foods, a coffee bar, full-service deli and bakery, and a pharmacy, all under the roof of the 37,000-square-foot building. An extensive wine and liquor selection and another section packed with Gulf seafood are also expected, as well as a wealth of locally grown produce—a boon to those in the area without easy access to a farmers market. The family also owns Murray's Supermarket in St. Amant, an institution that traces its roots back to 1921. Get more details at the new store's website here; and get more local culinary news in the new 225 Dine e-newsletter here.

News roundup: Raising Cane's marks 150th restaurant opening … LSU engineering grads making more than peers … Government downsizes amid GOP demands for more cuts

One love: Baton Rouge-based Raising Cane's says it opened its 150th restaurant on Thursday in San Antonio, its fourth in the city. The chicken finger chain crossed the 100th restaurant milestone in June 2011 and was ranked No. 8 on industry analyst Technomic's list of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the 2012. Last week, Raising Cane's was named the No. 1 quick-service restaurant chain in the United States in a study by Sandelman & Associates. Raising Cane's has more info on planned celebrations for its 150th restaurant here.

The paper chase: According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' January 2013 Salary Survey, starting salaries for engineering majors increased 3.9% from 2011 to 2012. And LSU graduates fared among the best of them, the university says. LSU graduates with a chemical, mechanical, civil or computer science undergraduate degree all earned more than the national average, according to the survey. LSU has the complete details here.

The squeaky wheel: Republicans and other fiscal conservatives keep insisting on more federal austerity and a smaller government. Without much fanfare or acknowledgement, they've already gotten much of both. Spending by federal, state and local governments on payrolls, equipment, buildings, teachers, emergency workers, defense programs and other core governmental functions has been shrinking steadily since the deep 2007-2009 recession and the anemic recovery that has ensued. The Associated Press has the full story here.

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